We new photographers need a new table of values as modern photographers:
The Modern Photographer Manifesto
Some ideas for us new photographers:
I think one of the best ways to assert what you believe in is to assert what you are ‘anti’.
To start, I am anti-romanticism in photography and art.
What is ‘romanticism’? To me, romanticism is having this false fairy-tale like notion that ‘success’ in photography is to "get discovered" by someone else, in order to become famous, rich, and well-regarded. This notion is as false as a Disney princess film: A beautiful and poor woman gets ‘discovered’ by a handsome prince, then she gets married, and she lives ‘happily ever after’.
We have a similar fairytale notion in photography:
As a photographer, you produce good work, and you keep your head down low, and you are humbly ‘discovered’ by a famous curator, who promotes you, in order that you don’t need to promote yourself.
I think this fairytale notion of getting ‘discovered’ is what prevents photographers from putting themselves out there.
But the truth is that we must promote ourselves.
Even if you did get “discovered” by someone else, and you get “signed” to them, there are always hidden strings attached.
For example, when Jason Eskenazi first published his epic book, “Wonderland” and got signed by a publisher, he had to pay tens of thousands of dollars if he wanted to buy back the rights to his own work.
This happens with rappers; they get signed to “360 deals” in which they get a large advance, but then they lose control over their own artistic creativity, and they lose control over their lives, and they become increasingly financially dependent on their label.
A lot of photographers want to get “discovered” to prove their “legitimacy”. This is nonsense. Why? The worth of your photographic artistry is not dependent on the opinions of anyone — whether they be an expert or not.
2. Why don’t more photographers self-promote themselves?
To promote yourself takes courage. It means that you believe in yourself, and you believe in whatever you’re selling or creating. To have someone else promote you is safer, because it doesn’t make you directly open to criticism.
In fact, I think the self-promoter is the ultimate authentic person. Why? By promoting themselves, they are putting their own skin in the game. Furthermore, self-promoters have courage — courage to assert their value to others.
But once again, I think the reason why self-promotion is held in such ill regard is that it isn’t “legitimate” for you to legitimize yourself; you must have others legitimize you.
Furthermore, if you self-promote yourself, apparently this is “self-centered”, which is synonymous with “selfish” and “evil”. Whenever you are helping someone, it means you aren’t helping someone else (thus doing positive harm unto others). Thus, to help yourself is evil.
Of course I think this is absolute nonsense. You’re the most important person to help. Why? If you don’t help yourself, it is impossible to help others.
3. No more gatekeepers
In the past, we needed other people to promote us, because other people controlled the means of communication. The promoters of the past were connected to the tv, radio, and newspaper industries.
But now, everything is different. We have the power to create our own power lines, and we can create our own channels! And the only channels you can control are your own platforms. A simple heuristic is this:
You know if you control your platform if you pay for it.
Or the inverse,
If you’re using a “free” service, you don’t own it.
For example, nobody owns their YouTube channel, their Instagram, their Twitter, or their Facebook accounts. The big companies do.
The things you can control in terms of communication channels include email newsletter, your website and blog. To succeed as a modern photographer, you must invest in and build your own platform.
You don’t want anyone or anything being a gatekeeper. In the past, the gatekeeper were the big publishing houses and media channels. Now, the ultimate gatekeeper are these social media companies — the algorithm is the new gatekeeper.
For example if you have 1,000 followers on Instagram, when you post anything (without paying money to “boost” your post), not all of your followers will see your post — maybe 100 of your followers will see it. Thus, the Facebook-Instagram algorithm is the gatekeeper, that controls the water faucet. The algorithm determines how much water to let out — kind of how that fat evil king controlled the water in the film, “Mad Max 2”.
Do you want your message be controlled and restricted by a big company? Of course not. This is why I encourage you to delete your Instagram, and divert those resources into building your own website blog.
We are modern photographers. Let us create our own new table of values as photographers, visual artists, visual poets, philosophers, photographer-artists, innovators, entrepreneurs, and creators.
That means, unlearn everything you’ve learned about photography, the art world, and the “legitimate” keys to success.
Create new values for yourself, new metrics of measuring yourself, and ignore the advice of others, and listen to yourself, your own needs, and fulfill your own desires.
Be bold. ERIC